How Did This Winter Compare to California’s Warmest Ever?

Written by Lev Baker
Published: March 15, 2023
© iStock.com/Richard Par
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California is known for its sunny beaches, palm trees, and warm weather year-round. However, this winter has been anything but typical for the Golden State. With temperatures falling below average and unusual snowfall, many Californians wonder how this season compares to the warmest winter ever recorded in the state’s history.

In this article, we’ll go into the details and explore the differences. How did this winter compare to California’s warmest ever?

California’s Winter of 2022/2023

The average temperature of this past winter varied according to the city and location. Still, as a whole, California experienced an average temperature of 42.8°F. This is not only colder than the average temperature for California’s warmest winter ever, but is even slightly colder than the norm!

California faced a unique winter season in 2022/2023. In fact, an active storm track brought a series of cold low-pressure systems to the region. From late December into mid-January, California was hit particularly hard by heavy rainfall and mountain snow. That caused power outages, including significant damage to the region. According to reports, at least 21 people lost their lives. More than 1,400 rescues were made throughout the state due to the severe weather conditions. The wet weather also triggered landslides, with more than 700 reported cases documented by the California Geological Survey.

Northern California

The San Francisco Bay area experienced its most extensive three-week stretch of rainfall in 161 years. Moreover, a sequence of moisture-rich atmospheric rivers brought substantial precipitation and snowfall to various regions of the state. Bridgeport recorded some of the coldest weather in the state, with a temperature of -27°F. This is almost 30 degrees below the average temperature for winter months in Bridgeport. The entire state was affected by the winter onslaught of storms, with some areas experiencing up to 20 feet of snow and hurricane-force winds. The heavy precipitation brought a whopping 32 trillion gallons of water to the state, setting new records.

Central and Southern California

Central California was also hit by major coastal impacts early in January. A huge number of strong winter storms brought large ocean waves, high winds, and heavy region’s that caused flooding and significant damage to the region’s central coast. Southern California experienced temperatures below normal by about 2 to 7 degrees due to the active storm track that persisted throughout the winter. The final week of February saw ongoing stormy weather continue to lash parts of California, resulting in power outages for nearly 85,000 households and businesses in the Los Angeles area. Higher elevations experienced heavy rainfall and hail.

Deep snow covers the tall trees that surround scenic Lake Tahoe, during blizzard-like conditions.

©iStock.com/hale irwin

California’s Warmest Winter Ever

In the year 2014/2015, California experienced its warmest winter ever recorded, with temperatures soaring high above the average. February 2015 was the hottest ever recorded in the state. It wasn’t a surprise, considering 2014 set a new record as the warmest calendar year in California’s history.

From December to January, temperatures continued to rise in California, reaching an average temperature of 1.5 degrees higher than the previous year, with an average temperature of 49.5°F. Eventually, in February, according to the National Climatic Data Center, the average temperature in California reached 61.5°F, surpassing the 20th-century average by 4.1 degrees. The full implications of such an unusual weather pattern are yet to be understood.

The heatwave caused significant problems for California, as it was already struggling with a long-lasting drought. The high-pressure area over the Pacific Ocean, which kept the temperatures elevated, also blocked much-needed storms. Consequently, the state faced low snowpack and below-average reservoir levels.

California’s Average Winter Temperatures

California is known for its mild, sunny weather, and its winter temperatures are no exception. Statewide, the average temperature is around 43.6°F. But temperatures can vary across the state. Here is a general overview of what you can expect during the winter months.

Average Highs

In northern California, you can expect average temperatures ranging from the mid-50s to the low 60s. In central California, temperatures can range from the high 50s to mid-60s; in Southern California, temperatures can range from mid-60s to low 70s. So even in the coldest months, you can expect to see some sunny and warm days.

Average Lows

The average low temperatures in California during the winter months are still relatively mild. In the northern part of the state, you can expect lows ranging from the mid-30s to the low 40s. In central California, the average lows can range from the mid-40s to the low 50s; in Southern California, you can expect lows ranging from the mid-40s to the low 50s.

Record Highs

While California is known for its mild winter weather, there have been some notable exceptions. For example, Woodland Hills hit 88 degrees on December 28, 2017, breaking a record set in 1963 by five degrees! That was perfectly in line with California’s warmest winter ever!

Record Lows

The state’s record-low temperatures are not as extreme as other parts of the country, but some areas have seen frigid conditions. For example, the coldest temperature ever recorded in California during the winter was -45°F in the Sierra Nevada mountains in 1937.

Average Snowfall

California is not typically associated with heavy snowfall, but some areas of the state do see some snow during the winter months. For example, in the Sierra Nevada mountains, you can expect an average of around 360 inches of snowfall each year. So if you’re looking for a winter wonderland, head to Mount Whitney!

Mount Whitney hiking trail sign
In the Sierra Nevada mountains, you can expect an average of 360 inches of snowfall each year. So if you’re looking for a winter wonderland, head to Mount Whitney, California!

©iStock.com/AutumnSkyPhotography

Animals that Migrate To and From California

California’s diverse landscape and mild climate make it an attractive destination for many migratory animals. Each year, various species travel to and from the state’s mountains, deserts, and coastline in search of food, breeding grounds, or warmer climates.

Some of the animals that make this journey include gray whales that swim alstate’s coast, monarch butterflies that flutter through the state’s parks, and salmon that return to spawn in freshwater rivers.

Salmon

Salmon, a majestic silver-colored fish, is a prized source of pink flesh often enjoyed smoked or raw. These strictly carnivorous creatures feast on insects, amphibians, and other fish, in freshwater or saltwater. Salmon are known to frequent small coastal streams and massive rivers like the Klamath River system.

These incredible creatures can journey as far upstream as the Shasta River and Iron Gate Dam, defying the odds with their sheer strength and determination.

These fish spawn in the upper mainstem Sacramento River between mid-April and August, a time when the river is teeming with life. As the temperatures rise, the fry and smolts make their way downstream, embarking on a journey that lasts from July to March. Finally, they reach their destination: the Delta, where they arrive between September and June, ready to face the challenges of the open sea.

Unfortunately, salmon runs in California have been declining for years, raising concerns among conservationists and fisheries.

Salmon racing
Salmons can journey as far upstream as the Shasta River and Iron Gate Dam, defying the odds with their sheer strength and determination.

©Aristokrates/Shutterstock.com

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill cranes are magnificent birds, recognized by their large stature, tall legs, and broad wingspan. Their bulky bodies gradually taper into a slender neck, with a small head and a straight bill that is longer than the head. Their diet consists of insects, grains, seeds, and small animals.

Birdwatchers flock to California to catch a glimpse of these captivating creatures, which breed in Alaska and spend the winter and early spring in various locations throughout the state. Some of California’s best places to view sandhill cranes include Staten Island, Carrizo Plain, and Cosumnes River Preserve. Thousands of these iconic bistate’surn to California every year, making them a beloved part of the state’s wildlife.

sandhill crane
Sandhill cranes are magnificent birds, recognized by their large stature, tall legs, and broad wingspan.

©Brian Lasenby/Shutterstock.com

Gray Whales

Gray whales are remarkable animals, reaching lengths of up to 49 feet and weighing approximately 90,000 pounds. The female gray whales are slightly larger than males. They possess mottled gray bodies and small eyes located above the corners of their mouths. The pectoral flippers of these whales are broad and paddle-shaped, ending in pointed tips.

As carnivores (molluscivores), they are opportunistic feeders, consuming a variety of crustaceans like herring eggs, ghost shrimp and amphipods, polychaete worms, and different types of larvae.

From March to May, gray whales undertake their Pacific spring migration from their nursery grounds in Baja, California, to their feeding grounds in Alaska, spanning over 10,000 miles. These magnificent creatures travel in groups, with pregnant females migrating about a month before other adults and juveniles.

Spectators can catch glimpses of these whales from the coastline, especially in areas like San Diego, Monterey, and Half Moon Bay. The awe-inspiring sight of the gray whales during their migration is truly a sight to behold.

gray whale popping its head out of the water
Gray whale popping its head out of the water. Spectators can catch glimpses of these whales from the coastline, especially in areas like San Diego, Monterey, and Half Moon Bay.

©Mogens Trolle/Shutterstock.com

Monarch Butterflies

Adult monarch butterflies have brilliant orange-red wings adorned with black veins and white spots along their edges.

Monarchs rely on the nectar from flowers for sustenance during their adult life. During winter, they spend their time along the California coast, from San Diego to Mendocino County, surviving off their stored fat reserves.

As spring arrives, monarchs embark on their migration searching for milkweed, the only plant their larvae can consume. They can be spotted all over California during this journey, although their wings may fade due to the length of their travels.

The United States is home to two distinct populations of monarch butterflies. One group resides east of the Rocky Mountains and migrates south during winter to Mexico. The other population, inhabiting the Rockies’ western side, travels to the central and southern coast of California for the winter season.

group of monarch butterflies in sky with storm clouds
Some monarch butterfly migration patterns are as long as 3,000 miles.

©iStock.com/dottedhippo

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The Featured Image

snow in California
A snapshot of a snow-covered peak in the San Gabriel Mountains as it towers above five palm trees in Southern California.
© iStock.com/Richard Par

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About the Author

I have been a freelance writer for the past 2 years. I have a huge love of animals and I love building my knowledge of animals through research. I love sea creatures in particular, my favorite being the octopus because of their intelligence, and I mean, come on, what's not to love! I have a rescue boxer named Dante who is the friendliest pup a man could ask for.

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